[Ads-l] "hooker" meaning "prostitute"

George Thompson george.thompson at NYU.EDU
Sun May 2 23:27:23 UTC 2021

I posted the following to the group perhaps 20 years ago.  It led to an
exchange of emails with Prof. Maher that became sufficiently acrimonious
that I invited him to stop, assuring him that I would delete future emails
unopened and unread.

Pris. -- . . . he called me a *hooker*. . . .

Mag. -- What did you call her a hooker for?

Wit. -- 'Cause she allers hangs round the hook, your honner.

New York Transcript, September 25, 1835, p. 2, col. 4

I suppose I will concede that this does not make it explicit that "hooker"
meant "prostitute", but clearly it was a term of abuse when addressed to a
I also think that the Witness was a folk etymologist.  The Hook was an area
of NYC frequented by sailors on shore and others seeking low life, but
still, I think it's as likely, at least, that a "hooker" was a woman who,
like a fisherman -- fisherperson, that is -- lures poor innocent men into
improper doings.


On Sun, May 2, 2021 at 3:29 PM James Landau <
00000c13e57d49b8-dmarc-request at listserv.uga.edu> wrote:

> Thomas P. Lowry MD _The Stories the Soldiers Wouldn't Tell: Six in the
> Civil War_Mechanicsburg PA: Stackpoloe Books, 1994, ISBN for the paperback
> edition 978-0-8117-1153-1
> A partial version of this book is available on Google Books.  Search on
> "were called hookers".
> extracts from page 147 (apparently this is the page number in the
> paperback edition)
> <begin quote>The 1976 _Supplement to the OED_ lists the word ["hooker"] as
> American slang for prositute, giving its earliest use as 1845.<snip>William
> Craigie's 1942 _Dictionary of American English_ cities [sic] the Corlear's
> Hook area of New York City, where houses of ill fame were
> concentrated...Craigie found "hooker" as a term for prostitute in use in
> 1859 [3]<snip>A University of North Caroline professor has found an 1845
> letter written by a student to a classmate, using "hooker" in the sense of
> prostitute [5]<snip>The 1968 Dictionary of the Underword, published in
> London, gives the same derivation ass Craigie, and cites the source as
> Bartlett's Americanism, published in 1859.<end quote>
> Unfortunately the page containing footnotes [3] and [5] is not available
> from Google Books.  Anybody with better library access than I is welcome to
> further research the above.
> Dr. Lowry also discusses, without endorsing it, the legend that
> prostitutes were called "hookers" after Joseph "Fighting Joe" Hooker, a
> less-than-outstanding Union general in the Civil War.  I might add that the
> existence of this legend, whether true or false, us evidence that "hooker"
> was a well-known term for prostitute in the Civil War era, as this legend
> certainly antedates Xaviera Hollander's book.
> James Landau
> jjjrlandau at netscape.com
> ------------------------------------------------------------
> The American Dialect Society -
> https://urldefense.proofpoint.com/v2/url?u=http-3A__www.americandialect.org&d=DwIFaQ&c=slrrB7dE8n7gBJbeO0g-IQ&r=v2Wtu7DQZxSBMSJv-oEMNg&m=nOO9i5KXgOSNUY9FbkBHjSGyFpaUhRv5iSPdWSpRVbM&s=MA6S4GqOxS9QWotobxb2k1WJg-oFO09AKRr0tQa-yAw&e=

George A. Thompson
Author of A Documentary History of "The African Theatre", Northwestern
Univ. Pr., 1998.

But when aroused at the Trump of Doom / Ye shall start, bold kings, from
your lowly tomb. . .
L. H. Sigourney, "Burial of Mazeen", Poems.  Boston, 1827, p. 112

The Trump of Doom -- also known as The Dunghill Toadstool.  (Here's a
picture of his great-grandfather.)

The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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